George Knox, in his 1961 Burlington Magazine article (see Literature), discusses the provenance of the drawings and proposes two possibilities as to their history. Firstly, he suggests that the album may have been purchased by Prince Alexis Orloff at the end of the 19th century, which leaves open the possibility that it was part of the large collection which London dealer Parsons and Sons bought at the sale of Edward Cheney’s drawings at Sotheby’s in 1885. Secondly, Knox provides an alternative explanation (one that he deems more likely), namely that the drawings were part of the Orloff family collection and descended from Gregory Vladimirovitch Orloff (1777-1826). Gregory was the son of Vladimir Orloff, who was appointed President of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1766. He wrote books about Italian music and painting and spent most of his life outside Russia, in the last years of 18th Century. Knox observes that an examination of the remainder of the works in the Orloff collection would appear to confirm that it dated from the late 18th or early 19th century.1
The present sheet is one of five from the Orloff Collection illustrating the theme of the Annunciation. Knox describes these five studies as being the ‘most advanced’ of the drawings in the Orloff group and dates them to the 1730s.2 The Barnet drawing shows the Virgin Mary kneeling in the right foreground of the composition while the Angel Gabriel appears above her, to the left, accompanied by a winged putto. Tiepolo has created a harmonious diagonal line that leads the eye from lower right to the upper left part of the sheet. The outstretched hand of the Virgin is cleverly echoed by the Angel Gabriel’s corresponding gesture. In the five ex-Orloff Annunciation scenes, Giovanni Battista experiments with slightly different ways of presenting his figures; some of the sheets show the Virgin standing and the Angel Gabriel on bended knee.
Of the four drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo offered in this sale, the ex-Orloff Collection Annunciation is the earliest. Executed in the 1730s, it gives us an insight into the artist’s formative years, and demonstrates his aptitude, at a fairly young age, for producing incredibly poetic and moving works of art. Rarely, if ever, have we seen such a striking and successful stylistic marriage between ambition of concept and spontaneous grandeur of execution
1. G. Knox, op. cit., p. 269
2. Ibid., p.273
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